Tips from the Trainer: How Food Affects My Dog


By Steve Kotowske

With all of the talk lately about DCM, dilated cardiomyopathy, I felt it was wise to step into a discussion about food, health and behavior. First, let’s clear the air about DCM. It is not a new disease linked to your dog’s food. The first cases were discovered nearly 20 years ago in a paper from the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2001. The 12 cases they described were from between 1997 and 2001 before grain free food was ever available. There are many factors that can be attributed to DCM. Several breeds are more at risk than others. Some breeds have a genetic predisposition to DCM. Affected breeds include the Doberman Pinscher, Boxer, American Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Portuguese Water Dogs, Mastiffs, and Great Danes. Other breeds, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Springer Spaniels, English Sheepdogs, Afghan hounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Terriers, and English Cocker Spaniels also have a relatively high incidence of the disease. The rise in mixing breeds for designer dogs has likely exacerbated the issue.

How does overall health affect your dog’s behavior? My favorite saying about food is, “Feed the body, feed the brain.” As humans, we certainly understand this concept. When we eat for pleasure, we sometimes end up not feeling so well, needing to take a nap, or end up with gastro-intestinal upset of some sort. If we do this over and over, we gain weight and start taxing the complex systems of our bodies. Food affects overall health. Just because we ‘like’ it, doesn’t mean it is best to indulge. What this new talk about DCM does for us is encourage us to question our dog’s diet. Since taurine appears to be the underlying issue with DCM, you should read labels, ask questions of your food provider. I typically suggest foods from a smaller store where the staff are often better trained at answering your questions about the labels and have access to the answers you need.

Stop looking at pictures and thinking about big brand names, read the label. Remember this valuable tip: no corn, soy, or wheat. They are common allergens for dogs. You should be feeding your dog a diet rich in protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. Probiotics assist in balancing the system in such a way that veterinarians are now regularly doling them out to patients with stomach issues. Your dog might actually benefit from a more complex blend of probiotics and digestive enzymes. I can steer you in the right direction to find them. You might also want to change your dog’s treats. I often hear how a dog loves certain treats, then read the label to the owner. They cringe when they hear what the ingredients are. Some ingredients are linked to behavioral issues in human children. I’d venture to say they are also inappropriate for a dog.